MOVIE REVIEW – CONTAGION

October 13, 2011

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Contagion, hereafter referred to as Achu!, is a chilling story about a worldwide pandemic of a hybrid bat/pig flu. Achu! begins on day two of the outbreak as Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is returning home to Minnesota from a business trip in China. Although already infected and suffering from a runny nose, cough and headache, Beth has time to stop at Chicago for a quickie with her lover. He too becomes infected, and starts to spread the disease himself. We also see in rapid succession other people that Beth came in contact with in China, all succumbing to the disease. This is a great, and frightening sequence letting us know how quickly a virus can be spread.

Once Beth gets home, she has a seizure and collapses. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital, where she quickly dies. Already stunned by this news, Mitch returns home to find that his son Clark (Griffin Kane) has also died from the virus. From here the story picks up all of its various threads and begins to tell the story from several perspectives.

Independent internet blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) picks up on the rising body count and starts posting about it; the World Health Organization sends Dr. Ornates (Marion Cotillard) to China to investigate. Prodded by the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the CDC in Atlanta also starts to investigate.

The rest of the film shows us the spread of the virus and the medical community’s attempt to stop it. The multiple threads let the audience get to see the effects of the virus from different perspectives, from the ground level of Mitch Emhoff to the penthouse view of Dr. Cheever and the scientists at the CDC. Along the way we get to learn a lot of chilling concepts like what an r-not number is. The r-not of a virus, we learn, is a mathematical formula calculating the virus carrier and the number of people he or she will potentially infect. The flu, for example, has a normal r-not number of one. This means that a person infected with the flu is likely to infect one other person on average. The CDC soon estimates that the r-not of the film bug is more like 4, but it could be higher. The scary thing is, the r-not is a real thing, and it’s monitored by scientists every day!

Soderbergh and his cast and crew are pros, and they go about their business in a professional way. Overall, I enjoyed this movie. I especially loved the mid-movie montage of abandoned locations. We see in quick succession the gym, the mall, the bank and several other places that are usually teeming with people and noise, all dark and abandoned. There is something unsettling about seeing these familiar places in such unfamiliar conditions. The apocalypse fan in me also loved the scenes showing the breakdown of society. People looting and killing and being generally unpleasant with one another as soon as the power goes out shows us a scary concept: the idea that acting civilized and obeying the law goes out the window as soon as personal preservation kicks in. We see this demonstrated when Mitch witnesses some armed looters break in to a neighbor’s house. He promptly calls 911 to report the break in and gets an endless automated message. (“You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered…press one.”) Later on we see that Mitch himself is now looting his neighbor’s houses. Survival has trumped law and order. And to be fair, I don’t blame him; I would probably do the same thing. This concept of “where exactly is the line between obeying the rules of society and doing what you have to in order to survive” is a powerful one, and it would have been great to see more of it. The film makers could have shown us the moral struggle Mitch Emhoff experiences as he makes these decisions. And an actor like Damon has the chops to pull it off. But since there were so many other threads going on, the audience quickly got whisked away to another character’s storyline, and any drama about Mitch’s decision to rob and steal to survive was quickly dropped into the memory hole. The next time we see Mitch, the danger is pretty much over and power has definitely come back on.

This brings me to the movie’s main flaw. I felt that the film was a bit bloated. There were too many characters trying to tell too many stories. Especially the Dr. Ornates storyline in China. I wouldn’t have missed it if that whole bit had been dropped, and the pacing would have improved dramatically.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

By itself, Achu! doesn’t really fit into a workable game. Some serious re-working would have to be done. Something or someone causing all the unpleasantness would have to be added on. Call of Cthulhu has a lot of potential beasties that could be responsible for the outbreak, but any modern day rule set could work. It could also be re-worked for a fantasy setting as well. This could be a lot of fun, especially when you can throw in the medical knowledge and sensibilities of the period. Again, a lot of extra work for the GM, but it could be satisfying.

I loved the storyline involving the doomed Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet). One of my favorite scenes involves her interaction with the Minnesota Department of Health officials. She gives them a shopping list of what needs to be done; shelters, morgues, food, water and supplies. Their response was great. Instead of taking the steps needed to save as many lives as possible, they are more concerned with questioning how much her plan is going to cost and who’s budget it’s coming out of. It’s only a few exchanges, but the actors nail it. It felt real, and that was scary!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

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Location: ICON

Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
21 Games
15 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

Note – Italics indicate that a card was played as an event.

Turn 1 saw the engineers, Milton and Britt, complaining about their contract and refusing to work, while the rest of the Crew moved to normal duty stations. The Monster unsuccessfully attempted to evolve and the Crew decided to build the motion trackers. The monster moved about the ship and unsuccessfully attempted to damage it. The end of the turn saw machines repair the damaged cargo hold.

Turn 2 had new damage detected in Corridor One. Both engineers moved to the damaged section, but were unable to repair it. The rest of the Crew built the high-strength nets.

(Paul Hassebrook plays a card as the Crew player)

At the beginning of turn 3, the Monster damaged the now-vacant Engine Room, and Cinder discovered that the Monster was going to be harder to kill (One of the Monster Attributes). The Crew then constructed the electrical prods; Britt was told to go to corridor one to take care of something. All by himself, Britt was attacked and killed by the monster. While the rest of the Crew attempted to find it, the Monster again tried to evolve, but failed. The end of this turn would see the player decks expand to 40 cards.

Turn 4 began with the Crew learning that the Monster was strong and smart and out to kill them. This resulted in the Monster drawing an extra card for its next hand. Realizing this, the Crew decided to construct 2 incinerators. Both Cargo Holds suddenly exploded, causing light damage in each. Machines quickly repaired one of the holds. The Monster appeared in the Crew Mess and although it received a wound, it killed Navigator Hamm. The Captain came up with a plan and the Crew attempted to find the monster. The Monster evolved to Stage One at the end of the turn.

(Paul reacts to Hamm’s death in the Crew Mess)

Turn 5 had the Crew arguing amongst themselves, costing them a card for next turn’s hand. Cinder and SISTER then turned up something useful to use against the Monster, resulting in the Monster losing a card from next turn’s hand. Smith, the ship’s cat, got loose, making it more difficult for the Crew to track the Monster. The rest of the turn saw the Crew trying to repair the damaged sections and the Monster healing its wound.

Turn 6 saw the Captain activate SISTER and ask for advice, gaining an extra die in combat. The lights on C deck suddenly went out, making it much harder for the Crew to search.

Turn 7 began with the Crew discovering that the Monster was using the vents to move around the ship more quickly. New Damage was detected in the Engine Room, but was quickly repaired by machine. Engineer Milton was attacked by the Space Monster in Corridor Two. When the rest of the Crew got there…he was gone. The rest of the Crew spent the rest of the turn trying to fix the damaged sections.

Turn 8 had the Monster appear out of the shadows and attack the Crew. Although wounded twice, it succeeded in killing the Captain and Executive Officer Abel, the latter by emitting a sonic screech (one of the Monster Attributes). To protect themselves from this new deadly attack, the rest of the Crew donned EVA suits. The Monster evolved to Stage Two at the end of turn.

Turn 9 began with the Monster quickly evolving to Stage Three. The surviving Crew members quickly assembled on the Bridge and decided that they were gonna kill the Monster, rather than attempt to abandon the ship. The Airlock depressurized, making it inaccessible for the turn. The highly evolved Monster attacked and killed Cinder on the bridge. This left Palance alone to fight the Monster.

(Shane Beddingfield surveys the game board and his cards as he contemplates the Monster’s next move. Designer Steve Baldwin watches in the background)

Turn 10 saw Palance decide to make a last stand in the Computer room. She activated SISTER and would receive an extra card for the next turn…assuming there would be one. The Monster didn’t attack and instead attempted to damage the ship.

Turn 11 had the Monster attack Palance in the Computer Room. In the first two rounds of Combat, Palance succeeded in wounding the Monster. With only one wound left, the Monster attacked again and succeeded. With her dying breath, Palance fired a harpoon gun. If it hit (by rolling a 1), the Monster would be killed, resulting in a draw. But the die came up with a 4. Palance was dead, and the Monster had won the game.

(The final roll for the Harpoon gun. A 1 will kill the monster. Sadly a 4 was the result.)

Lessons Learned:
Another exciting game; this one ending with both players having a chance to win the game. We got to see the Sonic Screech attribute used successfully. The Search mechanic is still not working right. I’m also thinking that the bowels of the ship area – a safe haven for the Monster – will have to be adjusted as well. The Crew player needs something to even the odds. But again, the overall experience was positive!

MOVIE REVIEW – FRIGHT NIGHT

September 29, 2011

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and Five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Fright Night (hereafter referred to as FN) is the latest entry in the unending stream of remakes coming from Hollywood these days. This time around FN is set in a Los Vegas suburb and concerns teenager Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his attempts to destroy his new neighbor, and blood sucking vampire, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell). Charlie becomes suspicious of Jerry’s thirst for plasma after his ex-best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tells him about the many disappearances in town lately. Among the missing is Adam (Will Dentor), the third member of their childhood trio. Charlie dismisses Ed’s vampire theory and tries to go back to his new life. Charlie, it seems, has moved on from all the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stuff that he, Ed and Adam used to to do when they were younger. In fact, he has moved on from Ed and Adam. Now, he hangs with the cool kids Mark (Dave Franco) and Ben (Reid Ewing) and has even found himself a hottie girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots) to boot!

But when Ed joins the ranks of the missing (dispatched by Jerry), Charlie reluctantly begins his own investigation. In a great scene involving a six-pack of beer, Charlie confirms Ed’s theory, Jerry is indeed a vampire. What’s worse, Jerry knows that Charlie knows. And the way that Farrell plays this scene (as well as the whole film) lets the audience know that Charlie, his mom (Toni Collette) and Amy are all in big trouble.

Later, when Charlie sees that Doris (Emily Montague), the stripper who lives next door (Why can’t I ever live in that neighborhood?) is going to be Jerry’s next victim, he quickly attempts a rescue. He breaks into the house and soon discovers secret passageways, locked cells, and finally the bitten and drained Doris. After watching Jerry take another big drink from Doris, Charlie attempts to sneak her past Jerry and out of the house. It’s a great sequence, and Gillesipe and his actors nail it, mixing in equal parts of suspense and horror.

Charlie, now desperate for help, goes and sees the great magician and vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Vincent is currently headlining at a casino in Vegas, and Charlie hopes he has the answers. Vincent reveals himself to be more of a performer than a vampire hunter, and quickly sends Charlie on his way.

The final reel has several battles, pitting Jerry and his growing army of vampire followers against Charlie and his friends. With casualties mounting in both camps, Charlie and Peter Vincent (Who has had his own little moment of redemption, and is now willing to fight) gear up and head off to a final showdown in Jerry’s underground lair. There, in a nod to the original film, Jerry menacingly tells them “Welcome to Fright Night…for Real!”

This movie was actually a lot of fun. Great performances by the entire cast (especially Farrell and Tennant) help to raise this movie beyond its standard script. It’s 106 minutes of roller coaster action, and I enjoyed the ride. The design was excellent and CGI was used in appropriate amounts. My biggest nitpick with the movie actually was the pacing. As fun as it was, I felt it made the movie more of an action genre than a horror flick. A slower pace could definitely have made for a scarier movie. From just about the opening scene the human characters (as well as the audience) are clued in that Jerry is a supernatural creature. The film makers could easily have made that journey of discovery longer, and much more horrifying. I feel that the film makers missed an opportunity to use a great horror concept: ‘Evil is lurking right next door.’ It’s something that all of us can identify with, and suburbia is a wonderful setting for it. We’ve all heard a strange noise coming from our neighbor’s house or apartment and wondered “what are they doing in there?” But since the plot is in overdrive, and Jerry pretty much flashes his fangs to anyone watching, this concept is quickly run over and left far in the distance.

One theme that did come through is “Things are seldom what they seem.” Jerry, at first introduction, is a night contractor, and at worst, a ladies’ man.  We quickly learn that he is much, much worse (he’s a vampire contractor – imagine him re-doing your kitchen!). Even Charlie is pretending to be something that he is not, having ditched his childhood friends and re-inventing himself to be accepted by the ‘cool’ clique.

The biggest example is Peter Vincent. We actually get to see him strip off all of his external character traits (hair, beard, sideburns, eyebrow ring) and go from mystical vampire killer to drunk B-actor. It’s a great scene, and Tennant plays it just right, comfortably and believably showing us exactly what the man behind the curtain is like. And at the same time, he confirms our fears that nobody is who they say they are.

Combine these two themes and you could have a really powerful, scary film. A different film than what Gillesipe and crew turned out, but a good one, I think. As is, the film they did was an exciting joyride, and I highly recommend it.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

The set up is perfect for horror gaming, and Call of Cthulhu comes to mind instantly! Vampire stories are perfect for Cthulhu, since you can craft each encounter with Jerry exactly as you want. That being said, when you look at the set-piece encounters in the film, there are a lot of opportunities for good gaming.


Look for Chris Sarandon (The original Jerry Dandridge) to pop up in a cool little cameo. In the credits, his character is listed as “Jay Dee” – get it?

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Location: I-CON

Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
19 Games
13 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

The Space Monster Player (Derek Hurley) chooses the Space Monster Attributes while The Crew player (Matt Aper) looks on.

Turn 1 saw the crew move to normal duty stations and then decide to build motion tracking units to help in finding the monster. The monster moved about the ship and unsuccessfully attempted to damage it. Cargo hold Two was repaired by machine. The Monster revealed one of its attributes by emitting an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which shut down the electronics of the ship for the turn.

Turn 2 began with Milton and Britt refusing to work unless they got more money. The Captain successfully activated SISTER, resulting in an extra card draw combat at the end of the turn. The Monster attacked Milton in the Engine Room, but only succeeded in wounding him before he was able to run away. This convinced the Crew that weapons would be needed to fight the monster, so high strength nets were hastily constructed. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess, and then both Cargo holds exploded with light damage in both being the result. The Crew began to move to the damaged section. The Monster appeared in Corridor Two and killed Cinder. Despite this loss, the crew, was able to repair the damage in Cargo hold one. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess. The Captain moved to the computer room and again activated SISTER.. The information he received would provide an extra die in any upcoming combat. The monster finished the turn by attempting to evolve, but was unsuccessful. The crew finished out the turn by repairing the damaged Crew Mess. The end of this turn would see the player decks expand to 40 cards.

The Monster began turn 3 by getting wounded in an unsuccessful attack on the Captain in the Crew Mess. Milton was healed with the timely application of first aid. The Monster attempted to damage to ship and failed. During the end phase the Monster evolved to Stage Two. (another Monster Attribute, although the Crew was unaware of this development)

Turn 4 had the Captain spend the entire turn in the Infirmary to study something interesting. The rest of the crew searched for the monster, found it in the Crew Mess, and in the ensuing melee was able to wound it. The Space Monster retreated into the bowels of the ship. The Crew spent the rest of the turn fruitlessly searching for the wounded beast.

The Monster started turn 5 healing one wound while the Crew attempted to locate it. The Monster surprised Engineer Milton in the Engine room and killed him. The Crew then decided to split into two teams to maximize their efforts. The Monster, despite this, was able to avoid detection. At the end of the turn, Palance and Britt located the monster and attacked, and although they succeeded in wounding the monster, both were killed in the battle. Now there were only 3 crew members left, so abandoning the ship became a viable solution.

Turn 6 began with the Engine room suddenly losing pressure. The monster became distracted by the lights on a control panel and had to randomly discard a card. The surviving crew members argued over who was in command, resulting in the random discard of a card from their hand, also. After calming down, the crew constructed 2 high strength nets. The Captain then decided to try to force the monster out of the ship by going into the vents. His attempt failed and he was killed at the third junction.

Turn 7 began with action as the monster attacked the two remaining crew members, seemingly from out of the shadows. Hamm was wounded in this attack, but Abel succeeded in driving the monster off in the second round of combat, inflicting another wound. Abel then went to the computer room and asked SISTER for advice, gaining an extra die in combat at the end of the turn. The Monster evolved to stage three in the end phase.

In turn 8, Hamm became suspicious of Abel’s motives and didn’t trust him. Despite this rift, both survivors decided to kill the monster, rather than abandon the ship. The Monster, with only two wounds left, did not attack the crew, instead attempting to damage the Infirmary…but was unsuccessful.

Turn 9 saw Hamm discovering a secret corporate directive in the ship’s records indicating that one of the Crew was secretly put on board to protect the monster. Abel and Hamm then built incinerators and searched for the monster but were unsuccessful. The monster again tried to damage the ship but was unsuccessful.

Turn 10 opened with Hamm discovering that not only was Abel placed on board to protect the monster, but that he’s also a robot! Hamm decided to make a last stand in the hibernation room. The Robot then attacked Hamm and killed her with an incinerator, ending the game in a major Space Monster Victory.

The game ends with the entire crew wiped out by the Space Monster

Lessons Learned:
We finally got to see the robot show up! The mechanic seemed to work, but it’s hard to know for sure with only one appearance. The Monster is still too hard to locate – searching will have to adjusted. Another Airduct attack almost wins the game for the Crew. The EMP attribute will have to be better defined. As it stands now, it effectively removes the SISTER bonus card draw. Another fun and exciting game, with both players getting a chance to win the game. And we got to see the robot – armed with a flamethrower, no less.

Oct 14 will see the release of another remake of the Thing.

You can view the new redband trailer here.

I’m not sure what to think of this. It appears that it’s a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing with this story concerning the Norwegians’ first discovery of the alien life form. It would be fun to finally see how the base that MacReady and Copper discover got torched. And who the guy was who slit his wrists and neck and then froze to death in the chair. I hope that this group of  filmmakers have a sense of continuity.

Looks like a lot of CGI, but it could be fun!

What do you guys think?

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (hereafter referred to as ROTPOTA) is a reboot of the Apes movie series from 1968-1973. Specifically, it is a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and attempts to explain, as Chuck Heston put it in the original Apes, “How in the hell did this upside-down society get started?” In the original, Caesar the talking chimp was introduced to our current time by his backward time traveling parents Cornelius and Zira (In Escape from the Planet of the Apes). ROTPOTA depicts Caesar being accidentally created by well meaning scientist Will Rodman (James Franco –  in a totally forgettable performance) who is working on a cure for alzheimer’s disease. He is developing a virus that attacks the disease and causes the brain to repair itself. One of his test subjects is Caesar’s mom, Bright Eyes. Rodman’s dad (wonderfully played by John Lithgow) suffers from this terrible disease, so Will has extra motivation to find a cure. After the worst progress report meeting in the history of progress report meetings occurs, the testing is shut down and Will is ordered to destroy all of the test monkeys. But once he looks into baby Caesar’s little green eyes (Which indicates that he has got the test virus in him and is uber smart) he can’t bring himself to do it and instead decides to take him home. This act of kindness, as you can imagine, will ultimately have REALLY BAD consequences for the other 6 billion or so folks living on the planet.

We see Caesar (Andy Serkis) quickly grow up and develop sign language skills, and other smarts as Will studies him in secret and continues to develop his cure. Eventually Caesar is discovered and sent to a home for wayward chimps run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton). Once there, Caesar experiences the cruelty of man, and begins to plot revolution.

Meanwhile, Will has used his test virus on his dad with spectacular, although temporary results. This convinces his money-driven boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) to begin testing on a new, more powerful strain – even though the effects of this new virus on humans is (John Carpenter music here)…unknown!

And so the stage is set for the apes to start their rise. The final reel is all about the pitched battles between some rather dim humans and Caesar and his simian army.

Overall, this film was a lot better than what I was expecting. The acting was great – not counting Franco. Andy Serkis again delivers an Oscar worthy motion capture performance as Caesar. His work coupled with the impressive CGI work make Caesar a real, believable character. Old pros Lithgow and Cox deliver the goods as well, and Tom Felton has fun as the punk kid who constantly has to prove he’s smarter than his ape charges.

The design was good and the film was well edited to keep the film on a brisk pace. I did have a few issues with the story telling; there were a couple of plot points that weren’t totally believable for me. First and foremost is the battle. I guess the realist in me can’t really envision how a bunch of monkeys armed with sticks and rocks are going to defeat fully armed S.W.A.T. teams with air support. But the movie had so many other positive things going for it that I really didn’t mind.

Being a huge fan of the original Apes film, I wasn’t overly excited about this film. In fact, my fondness towards the original pretty much preordained my dislike for this film. But about 20 minutes in I realized that this wasn’t a remake of my beloved Apes movie; it was really a re-telling of Frankenstein. Once I saw that Wyatt and his producers were really telling us a cautionary tale of man meddling with nature, I was able to relax my protection of the Apes films and just sit back and enjoy the show.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
This setup is perfect for modern day Call of Cthulhu. Although it would take some extra work on the part of the GM, it would be fun to set in the 1920’s too. I can easily see making your party the group of scientists tampering with forces beyond their control. Maybe bring in a Lovecraftian artifact that will help your players accomplish their goal (albeit with really, really bad consequences, naturally). Or maybe the corporation funding their experiments is really run by the head of some cult (or the actual beastie, itself) and is funding the money to unleash some icky evil on the world. And to keep the party going forward, no matter what dire warnings they come across, you can give each player a secret goal (like fame, helping a dying loved one, boatloads of cash for example) And if you can throw in global apocalypse along the way so much the better!

Fans of the Apes movies should keep their eyes and ears peeled for many references to the original movies that are peppered through out the film. From Caesars mom being called ‘Bright Eyes” (which was Taylor’s nickname in the original) to Tom Felton’s character being named Dodge Landon (a nod to Taylor’s fellow astronauts Dodge and Landon who both meet bad ends in the original) to the quick news footage of the Icarus mission – commanded by George Taylor, lifting off and later on, vanishing. There are a bunch of others, see if you can spot them all.

The whole second virus test was really a big sticking point for me. From a plot perspective it was incredibly dumb, and since the rest of the film was actually quite smart, this made this moment really stick out. First of all, they are using an airborne strain of the virus for testing. Seriously? That seems a bit reckless, and unsafe. Second, all of the scientists administering the test are NOT in full hazmat suits. All they have are little masks that cover their nose and mouth that you would wear if you were varnishing your furniture. Again, seriously? No scientist worth their salt would ever conduct an experiment with an unknown virus under those conditions. As you would imagine, one of them gets his mask knocked off and is exposed to the virus. This brings me to the other thing about this sequence that is dumb. Once Franklin (Tyler Labine) starts getting sick after being exposed (complete with sneezing up blood), does he bother to tell anyone? No, he goes home and hides for several days. Not very scientist-like of him, but since the virus is the mechanism for wiping out humanity, the film makers had to get it out somehow. I just wish they could have come up with a smarter way.

Oh, and don’t forget to stay for the end credits. There is a great sequence that shows exactly how the virus spreads ALL over the world!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Location: ICON Game Convention
Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
18 Games
12 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

We spent a very enjoyable weekend at ICON in Springfield, IL. Got to meet a lot of cool folks, make a few new friends, and get in 5 playtest games of SPACE MONSTER.

(The Prototype Game Board at the beginning of the game. All Seven Astronauts are located in the Hibernation room, while the Monster starts in the bowels of the ship.)

New Damage was detected in Corridor One and the Crew Mess, some of which was quickly repaired by machine. The Crew decided they had to repair the rest of the damage and moved to Cargo Hold Two and succeeded in their efforts. The Monster then began secreting goo (one of the Monster Attributes) while the Crew constructed the high strength nets to finish out the turn.

Turn two began with the Monster unsuccessfully attempting to damage the ship and the Crew constructing the electrical prods. The Corridor One Section doors suddenly became jammed trapping Milton and Britt inside. Palance moved to the Computer room and successfully activated SISTER to gain a bonus card for next turn. Milton and Britt, trapped in Corridor One, announced that they weren’t gonna work anymore until they got more money. The rest of the Crew spent the rest of turn fruitlessly searching for the Monster.

The Cargo in Cargo Hold 1 and 2 exploded, nearly killing Cinder to start Turn three with a bang.  Automated repair quickly repaired one of the holds. The Crew then decided that the damage was too severe to repair in Space. The turn ended with the Crew still unable to locate the elusive Monster. During the end phase the Monster evolved to Stage One due to a Monster Attribute.

Turn Four began with the Space Monster quickly evolving to Stage Two, an ominous sign for the Crew. The Crew again continued their efforts to find the monster and Palance again activated SISTER to earn the extra card. The mascot got loose and the Captain and Cinder went to the Infirmary to discuss an interesting discovery. This discovery led to the Crew learning about the Space Monster’s ability to evolve more quickly.

Cinder and Hamm spent the entire fifth turn on the bridge to plot the ship’s current position. New damage was detected in multiple sections. The turn ended with Milton being killed by a surprisingly large and powerful creature. With the first crew player killed, the player decks would expand to 40 cards at the the end of this turn.

The Monster appeared out of the shadows and killed Palance and Britt in quick succession. The Crew, finally becoming aware of the seriousness of the situation, opened the weapons locker and armed themselves. The Monster attacked the Captain but was fought off when the Captain overloaded his electrical prod and wounded the monster.

The four remaining crew members located the monster and attacked it. The Captain was killed in the attack. The Space Monster healed its wound, making the Crew’s chances even worse. The end of the turn saw the Monster evolving to stage three.

The Monster evolved to stage four but was quickly distracted by the flashing lights of a control panel and was unable to attack anyone this turn.

Abel was killed in a savage attack from the now fully mature monster. Cinder and Hamm, realizing that their chances of surviving were slim, decided to attempt to force the monster out the airlock. Cinder almost succeeded, falling short on the final roll and dying in the air ducts.

(Mikel Frost attempts the final roll in the Airlock attack. Success will eject the monster into space and win the game. Failure will result in Science Officer Cinder’s death.)

(Mikel’s reaction to coming up short on the final roll.)

Turn ten began with Hamm, all alone, deciding to make a last stand in Corridor One. The Monster attacked and killed the panicked and defenseless Hamm, ending the game.

LESSONS LEARNED:
The Monster still appears to be too powerful. How can we tone it down enough to give the Crew a fighting chance, yet still retain the horror flavor? The search mechanism also needs to be tweaked. It’s still just blind luck for the Crew, and that is not enough. Still, this was a fun and exciting game, with the overmatched crew almost winning with the airduct attack on Turn 9. We will see how the rest of the weekend’s games go…

Directed by Marcus Nispel

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Conan the Barbarian (hereafter referred to as CTB) is a reboot of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. This time around Jason Momoa gets to play the Mullet that became a king by his own hand. Joining him for the CGI ride is Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rosie McGowan, and even a badly done narration bit by Morgan Freeman. The story begins with our Cimmerian being born in the middle of a battle. This apparently means that Conan is going to be a warrior. We see this confirmed in the very next scene as the now 9-year old Conan single-handedly kills a gaggle of Road Warrior extras, all while holding an egg in his mouth. (I am NOT making that up. There is a reason for it, it’s kind of a stupid one, but there is one.) At this point Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang) shows up. He’s looking (in LOTR fashion) for a missing piece of an ancient snake mask that the opening narration was kind enough to tell us about. A long time ago, this mask was apparently broken and hidden to stop anybody from possessing it and taking over the world. (Is it just me or doesn’t it seem like the ancient world was chock full of artifacts that would either destroy or enslave the world?) Khalar and his witch daughter Marique (an eyebrowless Rosie McGowan) kill Conan’s dad, find the mask piece, and then leave our little barbarian to burn to death. Which we all know is a classic super villain mistake, since Conan escapes and lives to fight another day.

From there the film jumps to a grown-up Conan (Momoa) moving from one mindless CGI filled battle scene after another until he bumps into Khalar and his crew. Which was confusing to me, since he had the full mask, yet somehow 15 years had passed and the new dark age had not started. Apparently he’s now looking for the last descendant of some ancient blood line to resurrect his dead wife. I’m not really sure, the plot silliness had gotten so bad that I had kind of lost interest by this point. Suffice it to say that Conan hacks and slashes his way through the rest of the film.

This film was basically a mess. An expensive mess, but a mess. Costumes and props were standard but uninspired – straight out of the Fantasy movie playbook. Like any fantasy film today, there is a lot of CGI and some of it was actually pretty good. My real problem was the sound design. Now, it could have been the sound system in the theater, but the sound design was horrible. The mix was so bad that unless a character was shouting, every line of dialog was unintelligible. For example, in the scene where Tamara (Rachel Nichols) tells Conan her name, the mix was so bad and mushy, I had no idea what it was until the end credits.

The other thing about this film that disappointed me is that it quickly became apparent that the film makers had little or no knowledge of the Conan character from the Robert E. Howard stories. Basically, they got that he was a pirate (which he was in several stories) but that’s about it. Everything else in the stories that made Conan who he was, was gone.
One thing that always sticks with me from the Arnold flick was Conan’s search for the answer to the riddle of steel. Thulsa Doom ultimately provides Conan with the answer when he tells him, “Steel isn’t strong, flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?” If we change steel to CGI and flesh to character, plot and heart, we get to the main problem that besets all fantasy/sci-fi/horror films of today. What does state of the art CGI get you if there is no high quality character development, plot and heart (what I would call direction and production) to control it and make it meaningful? The answer is, alas, nothing but a wasted 113 minutes of your life – like you get with this film.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Obviously the Conan system is the way to go for this, with Dungeons and Dragons being a close second. You would have to work a lot on the plot to make it into a workable scenario. But the basic elements are all there. I could see a lot of potential for a campaign with your party trying to collect the various pieces of the mask before Khalar does. Each mask piece would be a different adventure. You can even have the mask pieces try to influence the party and get each of them to want to possess it. Now we’re talking! Party strife and conflict is always fun!

 

 

 

The best scene for me is when Khalar and Marique unleash several sand demons against Conan. The ensuing fight scene pitting Conan against warriors made of animated sand was pretty cool. Of course, the film makers didn’t take it as far as they should have. When it started, I thought they were copying the classic skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts. But instead of defining how many sand warriors were animated, they just had them (or maybe just one) jumping out of the sand periodically. Again, I enjoyed the scene, but it could have been done sooo much better.

If you really want to see a good Conan flick, I suggest you skip this mess and just pop in the DVD of the Arnold flick. Even after all this time, it still hacks quite a slash!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

MOVIE REVIEW – CENTURION

August 16, 2011

Centurion

Directed by Neil Marshall

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Another review of a film from last year. But I will start doing some more current flicks soon, promise! Centurion (hereafter referred to as Centurion) is set in Britain during Roman rule in the second century. It concerns a band of Roman soldiers, led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender as the Title guy) and their attempts to reach friendly territory after surviving a bloody ambush where their entire legion gets wiped out by the Picts.  The Roman Governor (Paul Freeman) has grown weary of the never ending Vietnam-like quagmire that Rome is caught up in Britain, and has ordered General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West and what a great character name!) to lead his entire Ninth legion northward to kill the Pict king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) and end the war in glorious Roman triumph. Of course, once the Romans get out into the country, the scout Etain (Olga Kurylenko) quickly leads them into the previously mentioned bloody ambush and the chances of Roman Triumph are greatly diminished.

The film now goes into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode with Dias and his small band being pursued all over England by Etain and a mounted group of Picts. (Think LeFors, but hotter) Along the way, they run across Arianne (Imogen Poots), a super hottie Pictish woman who shelters and feeds the fleeing men in her big, empty house. Arianne apparently lives alone; there’s not a man in sight, because…apparently that’s how just super hottie Pictish women roll.

After Dias and Arianne exchange the customary Davy Jones twinkle eyes, the Romans decide to to make a last stand at a nearby abandoned Roman outpost.

This film actually has a pretty good look to it. The design of the film is well thought out and there were some bucks spent in both real stuff and CGI. The sound design was average. Nothing jumped out at me as glaringly wrong (no sync issues, or bad ADR) but nothing jumped out at me as exceptional. The costumes and sets are both good. The actors try hard, and most do well; it’s too bad they are handcuffed by a such a weak story. Besides the story, a couple of things raised major red flags for me. First and foremost is the character of Etain. She is completely and utterly unbelievable. From the moment the Governor introduces her to General Virilus, all she does is stare killer daggers at every Roman in the tent and is basically making the slashed throat sign to all of them, all the time. Yet they trust her implicitly and follow her into the abattoir without a second thought. I must point out, however, that despite her homicidal anti-Roman tendencies, in many ways she is the perfect woman. Beautiful, scantily clad…mute. (A cookie to anyone who can name the movie that quote is from!) Second is the politically correct casting. Our Roman survivors are, because of today’s day and age, a nice ethnically diverse group. In addition to several Romans we get a Nubian (“What’s a Nubian?”) and a Syrian thrown in the mix. The third thing is the anachronisms that pop up through out the film. For example, Dias, in bad narration style, says this about Arianne “Is she angel, or demon?” Really Dias? You’re a Roman – in fact you’re a Roman before the conversion to Christianity. Your religious beliefs don’t include such concepts as angels and demons. Those are more of Christian ideas. I know it’s only one line, but things like that are all it takes to push a film into crapsville.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Here is a perfect setting for Dungeons and Dragons. You can have a big set piece battle to start, and then get into the role-playing. Or just start with the aftermath of the ambush. The only thing missing is magic. The film itself has no magical items, spells, or magicians. The film makers do suggest that Etain might be using magic to help in her tracking (we see her taking ashes of the dead and boiling them in kettles and stuff) but they don’t follow through with that idea. So, some magic would have to be added in. If a chase adventure doesn’t sound exciting enough, you can always add in some other goals for the party to try an achieve. If I were running it, I would split the party in two and let one group take on the roles of Etain and the Picts, and let the players match wits against each other. You can always keep the Roman Army in  your back pocket as the cavalry coming over the hill, if you need to.

 

 

 

Look for Noel Clarke as the Nubian runner Macros. A lot of you will recognize him as Mickey The Idiot from Doctor Who. While I’m glad to see the actor get out and do other projects, I did find him a bit distracting. Once I saw him, I started looking for Rory, the plastic Roman (Arthur Darvill) to show up….

‘Course, what do I know? Now if you will excuse me, I’ve going out to find me a super hottie Pictish woman…

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Date: 8/7/11

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

The Crew player began the game cautiously, only sending out the engineers Milton and Britt to attempt to fix the damage in Cargo Hold Two while the Captain went to the Computer Room to consult the ship’s Computer. The Monster, only at Stage Zero of it’s life cycle, spent the turn hiding from the crew and attempting several unsuccessful attempts at damaging several of the sections located on C and D deck.

The majority of the Crew continued to remain in the Hibernation room constructing electrical prods to fight the monster. This strategy backfired when a door malfunction occurred (thanks to a SM Event play) and the affected room was randomly determined to be the Hibernation room – trapping 4 crew members for the rest of the turn.

The Crew spent this time deciding to form into teams (Crew Event) and constructing high strength nets. Again the Space Monster spent the turn down on the lower decks, this time damaging the Engine room.

Turns three and four saw the Crew start making a concerted effort to hunt down the Space Monster. They also managed to repair the Engine room. But the monster proved to be elusive and avoided detection, while continuing its attempts to damage the ship. Finally, the Monster attacked two crew members in the Engine room and killed Navigator Hamm. The end of turn four saw the player decks expand to 40 cards (which happens after the first death of the Crew) and the Monster evolve to stage one.

The Crew spent most of turn five performing damage control – managing to keep the number of damaged compartments down to three. The monster, playing an Event card, evolved to stage 2, An ominous sign.

Turn six saw the game come to a violent and bloody conclusion. The Captain, went into the air ducts in an attempt to flush out the monster (again a Crew Event), and almost succeeded, dying at the final moment. The Monster, then began attacking the Crew and in two separate attacks, wiped out the remaining five Crew members, several dying after getting hit by the monster’s toxic blood (one of the attributes the Monster player chose for this game).

Game Result: Major Space Monster Victory

While a good time was had by all, both players agreed that since this was the first game, they were trying things just to learn the rules and game mechanics rather than for optimal strategy. The next time around, both vowed to focus on winning the game. We shall see…

Click here for more information on SPACE MONSTER.